IN THE 1950s—when the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a cartel of airlines, used to set fare levels and service quality on international routes—there were few differences between major carriers. One way to persuade passengers to choose one airline over another was to offer better meals as entertainment on board. And so an arms race to serve fancier food on transatlantic flights began. It came to an end in 1958, when SAS, a Scandinavian carrier, was fined $20,000 by IATA for serving open sandwiches that, contrary to IATA’s rules, contained overly fancy ingredients such as ox tongue, lettuce hearts and asparagus. The quality of food on board flights has fallen greatly since. Liberalisation of the aviation industry in the 1980s and 1990s, with IATA losing its power over fares, has meant that most carriers now compete on price rather than service quality.
But there are signs that some airlines in America may be getting into a new arms race—or, put another way, a food fight. It seems unthinkable, at a time when legroom is shrinking and reserving a seat means paying extra, that an airline would give, say, complimentary sparkling wine to economy-class flyers. But that is exactly what Delta, America’s second-biggest carrier, began offering on its international flights this month. The airline will also provide “upgraded flatware” (crockery and cutlery) and “customer experience menu cards” that detail the food and beverage options and—far more useful, from Gulliver’s perspective—the timing of those services. Business-class Delta flyers out of Asian airports are also being treated to “regionally sourced cuisine”. And later this month they will also be able to pre-order their meal choices.
Category: Business and finance, Gulliver